Unfortunately, dog attack cases are a regular occurrence through our hospital doors. The Australian lifestyle of outdoor living, dog park visits and our tendency to include our pets in our day-to-day activities brings the entire family together. It does however, also allow our pets to come in contact with unfamiliar doggy faces and new surroundings. Both of which can be stressful on our dogs and result in unpredictable behaviour and interactions. Sadly, this combination of events can lead to dog attacks occurring between our furry friends.

The Iceberg Effect

At Animal Emergency Service, we have witnessed the full scale of the trauma such an attack can cause. After years of experience with these injuries, we have learnt one very important lesson: never underestimate the damage caused underneath. When a dog’s jaw engages with skin, multiple things occur at once:

  1. Bacteria laden jaws (approximately 330 varieties) are clamped down, puncturing the skin and injecting a tremendous load of bacteria.
  2. Stress reactors in the body are released which result in transient changes to the blood vessels and cardiac output. These produce signs of shock including a high heart rate.
  3. Pain!
  4. The shaking and sawing action of a dog’s jaws result in large amounts of tissue damage underneath the skin.

This tissue damage is what we call, the ‘iceberg effect.’ On the surface puncture wounds are easily visualised, as is external bleeding but it is the destruction underneath that makes us worry.

As the skin is ripped upward, forward and back, the subcutaneous layer is separated from the muscle, and the muscles themselves can be torn. This causes dead space – an ideal hiding zone for bacteria to proliferate and produce infected wounds. It is difficult to estimate the amount of dead space from looking at the wound.

dog-attack-blog-pic-2 Treatment

When your pet is brought into the hospital, our priority is providing pain relief, antibiotics and cardiovascular support as soon as possible. When they are stable enough to have an anaesthetic, our mission begins with determining how badly the skin underneath is affected and repairing the wound.

In incredibly unfortunate situations, the jaws can penetrate into the thoracic or abdominal cavity requiring extensive and complicated surgery to remove the bacterium that has been injected and to repair the damage.


The good news is these events can be minimised by being aware of the situation your pet is in and taking a few simple steps:

–       Monitor the level of play and recall your pet before it escalates

o   Appropriate play involves dogs participating in a game of equal winning and losing.

o   Monitor for signs of discomfort, such as hunched stance, moving away from the interaction and tail tucking

–       Monitor for signs of aggression

o   A happy dog will wag his tail with a whole body action

o   An unhappy dog will have a stiff body, and a high wagging tail, combined with stiff ears and body

–       At home with a new doggy visitor allow for slow, lead-controlled interaction and remove any competition for food or treats

–       Most importantly, remain calm, if you become tense about a situation your pet may feed off any anxiety and it will change the way they react to potential new doggy friends.


It is wonderful to enjoy dog parks and important to socialise dogs in a calm, controlled and happy environment. If an accident does happen however, we are here to help.

Never underestimate a dog attack wound, always seek veterinary assistance.

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